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Difficult Student (Read 14207 times)

Offline meli

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Difficult Student
« on: July 09, 2013, 06:26:01 AM »
I have a rather difficult student. On some days, she plays quite well and is quite easy to talk to, but on other days, she behaves somewhat opposite & plays terribly e.g. she hates being corrected and will suddenly show her temper by not talking and refuse to play for rest of lesson!   
 A few weeks ago, she played her grd 4 exam piece with a fistful of mistakes (notes, rhythm etc.) everywhere. It is obvious that she did not practice, or is unhappy about 'something'. I even asked her, she played it well last week, is something wrong? She seemed rather annoyed at me telling her what were her mistakes. She then refused to play after that and looked angrily at the keys.  I even said ''I understand you are angry, you can just sit there until end of lesson. I will do other things, let me know when you are ready" Well, she didn't for the rest of the lesson :(
 Then last week, she was totally different. She played the same piece with focused attention, and even did HT quite steady! Huh? What happened? I was surprised, and praised her playing. She then said, 'see how good I am? I didn't even practice!' After that, she giggled, and was quite pleasant.  My only worry, is she is doing her grd 4 exam pieces now, and I can't let her play sloppily, just because she is in a 'bad mood'.  How should I approach or handle such a student? I have taught her for 2 years now, but I notice, I am getting more upset now with her temper tantrums. How can I calmly tell her, this is not acceptable? FYI, she is the most difficult student I have (I can't believe I taught her for almost 3 years now).

Offline cabbynum

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Re: Difficult Student
«Reply #1 on: July 09, 2013, 07:09:55 AM »
I'm not a teacher, just gonna start with that.


But I do have a suggestion you've probably already tried. Call her parents, have them talk to her.

Does she fall into the autism spectrum? Some of what you described sounds a bit like that. I'm a dive coach and one of my students is autistic and if I try and get him to try a dive he doesn't so well he will literally curl up into a ball on the board and suck his thumb.
I still haven't figured out how to move past that.
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Invocation

Offline danhuyle

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Re: Difficult Student
«Reply #2 on: July 09, 2013, 08:08:47 AM »
I had piano teachers saying I'm a difficult student.

I classify myself as the ambitious type who wants to play as many pieces as possible while learning with a world class piano teacher. Who wouldn't?

They classified me a difficult student because I'm not the type who likes to come to lessons preparing, more like rehearsing, for one end of year exam. Honestly, I can't stand how piano teachers themselves could take it when teaching students the same pieces (Bach P&F, Mozart Sonata, Chopin Ballade, Debussy Prelude). They have the misconception that if your student comes in playing the same pieces for more than 6 months, that it will magically get you the highest grade possible?

The reason piano teachers refuse to teach highly virtuosic piano music is so obvious.

The thought of rendering some easy piece could somehow explode your skills at an exponential rate?

The ambitious student is not hard to deal with.

Just stop forcing to work on exam pieces, instead, expand their repertoire. You see, from my own experience, it's almost impossible to forget your exam repertoire, even if your students try to do it. Your students will come to lessons with pieces prepared, but not the ones you assigned, because they KNOW that you (the teacher) will continue to teach them those same pieces no matter how bad they play it.

 ;D ;D ;D ;D
 
Perfection itself is imperfection.

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Offline 1piano4joe

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Re: Difficult Student
«Reply #3 on: July 09, 2013, 05:20:56 PM »
Hi meli,

Just curious but how long have you been teaching and how many students have you had to "deal with" in total? I had to learn to be a psychologist first and a teacher second to develop the necessary "PEOPLE SKILLS" to diffuse potentially volatile situations and interact with the multitude of personalities I was unprepared for.

People can be more troublesome than "La Campanella"!

Let me explain why. There are no surprises in the score and you analyze it, prepare for it and improve upon it over many years. Perhaps make some discoveries too. BTW, I can't play this. It's way too hard and I wouldn't waste my time and energy on it. Yet, I used to be very, very stupid and wasted my time and energy on "IMPOSSIBLE PEOPLE" trying to please them while at the same time trying to protect myself emotionally and financially.

Any of this sound familiar?

It's too hard. It's too easy. Your going too fast, too slow. I don't like this piece. Why this and why that? When can I... and so on and so on it goes. They come in and plop, not sit and are unhappy because their parents are forcing them to come.

And people don't come with Grades or Levels. Maybe they should? The more difficult you are, the higher the Grade. Then we could all avoid the, "HIGH MAINTENANCE" people. There is no warning label that spending time with them may be hazardous to your health!

You will never, never know what makes somebody tick or what the hell they are thinking or feeling at any given moment. Chips on their shoulder? Yes. Walking time bombs? Yes. Angry, moody, flaky, controlling, manipulating, nit picking, emotionally black mailing, etc. YES!

I have had many, many, MANY students like that over the years. That is just ONE of the reasons I don't teach anymore. The High Schoolers are the worst. Particularly,  the 12th graders. Have you ever heard of senoritis? They are not children. They are not adults. They are half-baked. The worst of the worst are the 12th grade girls.

It's always a very bad sign when they are talking back and/or yelling and cursing at their parents in front of you. When they don't even respect their mother or father which is so unbelievably common place these days then why do I expect any better treatment? Oh yeah, I forgot. I used to be very, very stupid.

"The apple doesn't fall far from the tree". Got it? No? In my experience talking with the parents didn't help the situation at all. Best case scenario is, "I know, I know, We just don't know what to do with him/her".

People are usually not forthright with me about themselves or their kids. I take a probationary approach. I am trying them out. Cancellations, no shows, reschedules, moodiness, rudeness used to all go into the equation.  I became like Harvard or Yale if you will. I don't accept everyone as a student just because they have the money for lessons. That was my "original policy" when I first started out or I should say "lack of any policy whatsoever".

At one point in my career I started to warn parents about myself. Are you sure you want me? I am strict. I expect assignments to be completed and so on. I charge for missed appointments, etc.

The response to that was sometimes lies and sometimes not. Your strict, that's good, he needs that. You charge for missed appointments, no problem, of course, we understand that.

Yeah right, till it happens!

Teaching requires both an incredible tolerance for inconvenience and even more patience, Joe.


Offline meli

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Re: Difficult Student
«Reply #4 on: July 11, 2013, 02:11:57 AM »
Thanks guys for your advice. I know that she hates exams, and doesn't want to do this one! She doesn't follow my practice instructions, and I feel she is just sight-reading her pieces every lesson. Unfortunately, her mum insists on her doing it and hasn't listenened to any of my advice.  Yes, she is a nice lady but pushy parent :(  - I know she comes from a family where all her younger siblings trying to get as many exam certificates as possible. For the time being, I think I'll 'experiment' on her for a while, and try to work with her until the exam is over in Sept.  I have been teaching for 4 years, and I only have 10 wonderful students  - but this girl is a real headache! - when she is upset that is. She can be abit rude also - like commenting her mother will blame me if she fails, and refusing to sight-read in my lessons.  What would you do in this situation? How can I prepare myself in case the mother blames me for her exam failure?

Offline ajspiano

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Re: Difficult Student
«Reply #5 on: July 11, 2013, 02:50:27 AM »
How can I prepare myself in case the mother blames me for her exam failure?

So what if she does?

I personally have a strong dislike for the exam system which I went through as a child. Not that it ever happened to me, but my teacher didn't allow her students to fail - she knew whether they were ready, and if they were not she would advise cancellation of the exam.

If you are not already, when you give students something to work on, mark the date on it. Have an awareness of when exactly you told them to do what exact practice so you can accurately quantify the desired result and the ideal time frame within which to achieve that result.

If/when that doesn't happen, you tell the parent that a change of approach is warranted. Explain what you intend to do, and why, and how you intend to (possibly) work back to the original program - and what has to happen in the mean time for you to feel that the student is ready to go back to an exam. If the parent says no don't obey them, - this is your professional advice as a PROFESSIONAL piano teacher. You don't need to be rude about it, but you are the one doing the teaching, she is paying you for your opinion on what to do. Be aware of that, and hold your ground.

It is acceptable for the parent to say can we go through to the end of this exam and see how it goes, but you need to make it clear in advance that you think this is not the right approach and that if she fails the exam you will take a new approach there after to rectify the problems.

Having said, don't inform the student of this - this is a parent/teacher thing only. This particular student doesn't need to feel extra pressure right now (which this kind of parent may apply at home without your knowledge), and you should make sure that the parent knows that too.

......

Essentially what I'm saying is, don't wait for the parent to blame you. Take ownership of the idea that you (and the parent) may genuinely be to blame. Not because you can't teach the content of the current program, but because the program is inappropriate for the student and it is leaving her totally unmotivated.

In discussion with the parent, don't assume that its just the music or the exam, talk about how she is at home, why does the parent think she doesn't practice? Is she pressured by other school commitments? etc. Ask the parent what can be done at home to encourage more practice. Can you keep a practice diary? is there a reward (one that matters to the student) if the student practices at least 30 mins every day of the week?

......

If the parent is not willing to work with you to solve the problem then you've got to be asking why. Teacher and parent is a team, not an employee/employer relationship. You only see the student 30 mins a week right? sure a lot hinges on you doing that 30 mins right, but an awful lot hinges on the parent getting the parenting right as well. If that part gets screwed up you're probably not going to be able to fix it at your end, and if you don't address that possibility you're probably not doing your job as teacher either. Obviously you have to approach this with a great amount of care and tactfulness though.

You can consider allowing the parent to supervise the lessons so that she is aware of what the student is meant to be doing. For most of my students this is compulsory from the beginning, with the younger ones I often talk extensively with the parent about how to work with the child during the week, and that the parent needs to be as much a part of the practice session as the student does.

Your last consideration should be that you simply don't want to work with a parent that won't work with you.. and that she either needs to take your advice or find a new teacher.

Offline rembetissa

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Re: Difficult Student
«Reply #6 on: July 11, 2013, 02:55:40 PM »
Hey, there! :) I'm sorry this student is so frustrating! The suggestion made above to request a parent's presence during the lessons was a great one. You may find that changes everything. Or not. Some of my students get a little crazy when their mom or dad is with us. :)

If you try that and it makes no difference, the way I see it, you have two choices:

1. Decide that it's not worth it and dismiss the student.

2. Try to "ride out" this phase. It could be that she will mature and figure out how to cope without acting out the way she does now. And, although it's probably hard to see when you're dealing with her bad behavior, you may be playing a key role in teaching her how to cope. Many teachers will say, "I get paid to teach piano, not life skills!" But in reality, music teaches us so much about life!

Let us know how it goes. ;)

Offline jknott

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Re: Difficult Student
«Reply #7 on: July 13, 2013, 09:42:13 PM »
can I ask how old is the student?

Offline meli

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Re: Difficult Student
«Reply #8 on: July 15, 2013, 03:28:30 AM »
She is 10 yrs old. Last week, she played terribly again. I know she can do it well, she is just not trying or is angry about something. I stopped the lesson, and talked to her nicely. She finally told me, she doesn't have time to practice. We went through her weekly activities together - she is quite loaded! Lots of tution, school activities - there is hardly no time. She complains to me that she has so much tution (with homework too!). I even asked her 'did you tell your mum you didn't want to do the exam?' Her reply was 'she just won't listen'! I didn't bring up the topic of why she is venting her anger in lesson - better not.  Ok, part 1 done. Now part 2 - talking to her mum. I will email her and mention as diplomatically as I can, that 'why on earth do you want to stress this girl out with an exam if she has no time to practice?' Of course, I won't say that! Now, maybe this girl could be lying, so I want to hear from the mum. If so, either cut down on those activities (which I don't think she can) or pull her out of this exam. Knowing this mum, I think she will find a way to push the responsiblity to me. If that's the case, I will tell her, I already warn you I need her commitment, and even mentioned I was worried about her taking this exam (before registering her).  Its my job to tell you her progress, and sorry but I have not seen any improvement in her playing.  Either pull your socks together or continue like this and fail. Wish me luck!